The most dangerous room in your house is probably the smallest room in your house.
Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that approximately 250,000 people over age 15 visit emergency rooms each year due to injuries suffered in the bathroom. The percentage of people aged 65 and older who are injured in the bathroom is more than double the rest of the population.
As a room that is frequently wet, filled with hard, slippery surfaces, often negotiated in bare feet, and sometimes cramped for space, the bathroom offers many opportunities for creating injury. According to Andrea Champlin, Occupational Therapist and Rehab Care Program Director for St. Andrews & Bethesda Home Health, fractured hips, wrist fractures and bruises are the most common injuries.
So how do we reduce these hazards to create a senior-friendly bathroom space?
Tub and Shower Tips
As two-thirds of all bathroom injuries occur in the tub or shower, they are a good place to begin our focus.
Install grab bars inside the shower and tub area. Towel racks don’t count. They are designed to hold towels, not a falling adult. Make sure the bars are slip-resistant (not made with a high-gloss finish), and are color contrasted with the wall they are mounted on for better visibility.
Another way to ease into the tub is with a bath transfer bench. The person sits on the bench outside the tub, then slides over into it.
Other options include walk-in tubs that don’t require high stepping over the side of the tub to get in or out. There are issues with these tubs, however. “They are not completely level with the floor so you do have to step up to enter and leave, and you have to remain in the tub as it fills and until it drains,” Andrea says. Walk-in showers have no barrier to step over, just a slight slope from the bathroom to the shower floor.
If standing to take a shower is a challenge, shower chairs can assist. Also, a hand-held shower head can make things easier.
Toiletries need to be within easy reach, so that seniors with poor balance don’t have to stretch up or bend down to retrieve soap, shampoo, conditioner and other items.
Non-slip mats and non-slip rugs enhance stability when moving in or out of the tub or shower. Seniors should not use a towel as a mat, as it can easily slide out from under your feet.
“People fall off the toilet, which obviously can cause injury,” Andrea says. “And if there isn’t enough space between the toilet and sink or toilet and tub, they can actually become wedged in and trapped.” She suggests some seniors may benefit from wearing a life-alert pendant in the bathroom to call for help. “They are water proof, so you can wear them in the shower,” she says.
Another issue — standard toilets are too low for some seniors to sit down on, or get up from. Andrea notes that many of the toilets in the Independent Living communities at Bethesda Health Group are raised, not requiring a deep-knee bend or the requisite leg strength to stand up. In addition, they are surrounded by grab bars to assist.
Other Ideas to Create a Senior-Friendly Bathroom
There are many other adjustments strategies caregivers and seniors can employ to make the bathroom a safer place:
- Install lever faucets that are easier to turn.
- Clear the path to the bathroom.
- Make sure the door swings out to allow outside access.
- Turn on the light before entering.
- Clean the bathroom regularly.
- Use smaller or textured floor tiles for better traction.
- Set hot water heater no higher than 120 degrees.
If an extensive renovation of the bathroom is desired, consider a professional with experience in remodeling bathrooms for seniors.
As part of the St. Andrews and Bethesda Home Health program, Andrea visits homes and makes recommendations on items to use, and design changes to make to improve senior safety. She often concentrates on the bathroom.
“As people want to live in their own homes as long as possible, I always tell them the bathroom is one of the first places they should renovate,” Andrea says.
Andrea adds that it is important for seniors to maintain strength, balance, and flexibility through exercise. “Those capabilities can also help prevent serious bathroom injuries,” she says.
Here at Bethesda, we are committed to senior safety, health, and wellness. Find more Senior Safety Tips on Bethesda’s Blog, and contact us for more information.